At Public Discourse, R.J. Snell (director of the Center on the University and Intellectual Life for the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, NJ) looks at Ross Douthat’s recent book for the 5th anniversary of the pontificate of Pope Francis.
It is a sharp and reasoned contrast to the ACME quality spittle-flecked nutty of the Coyote over at Fishwrap. (Still amusing.)
To Change the Church: Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism
If you haven’t read this yet, you are missing out on a fascinating, ongoing discussion.
Snell add his commentary, of course. Here are a couple samples:
Of course, if the church was in error on communion for the divorced and remarried, it meant that the previous popes were in error, that previous councils were in error, that the English martyrs were in error, that not only the Church’s moral teachings but also her ecclesiology and sacramentology were wrong, and that there were no principled reasons to reject communion for cohabitating couples or sincere homosexual couples. That is, this was not a matter of pastoral accommodation but a revolution calling into doubt the very meaning and existence of the Roman Catholic Church. It also meant that untold millions of Catholics had struggled to resist sin, and to confess when they failed, for no reason. It had all been in vain, a ridiculous hang-up without cause. (One bishop even suggested that Jesus himself had been wrong and unmerciful to reject the Mosaic law permitting divorce.) ….
So, what will be the Francis legacy? An exhausted but ultimately victorious orthodoxy? A swelling resurgence of traditionalists, especially among the young? (There is some evidence of this, certainly more than the supposed return of the lapsed and alienated Catholic.) Or will it be schism? A new theology, what Flannery O’Connor derided as “the Church of Christ without Christ”? Will it be the ascendancy of the African Church and the marginalization of the European, where it survives only because of full coffers? Will the old truce hold, or will it fail now that everyone realizes they kept the truce only because they felt their side would inevitably succeed?
Douthat doesn’t tell us. The book maintains its studied ambiguity, showing the fault lines and commitments of the various factions. …
Good and serious Catholics sometimes welcome converts not with, “well, at last, you’ve found the true faith” but “come on in, the water’s terrible,” or “really, this old thing?” They confess their love more like a wife at her fiftieth anniversary than in the poetry of first love. The Church is all too human, all too dysfunctional, and has always been so. Yet, this ark, battered and leaky, survives and thrives. There’s a quiet sense that the Vatican thinks in centuries, that a thirty-year crisis will hardly matter in time.
Or, perhaps this time is different. It feels different to many, as if something unprecedented and irreversible is happening. But we don’t know, and Douthat is honest enough to leave us hanging, waiting for the next installment of the Church’s story to be told. His story is unsatisfying in its ambiguity, but all the more interesting and truthful for it.